Friday, April 12, 2013

The Small Hours and The Tender Years

This was funny at the time:

Mike had been drinking so heavily in those days that his hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Mike, myself, and a few of the boys helped our buddy Matt move into his new apartment. After we brought in all of the boxes and furniture, we sat and drank beer and watched TV on the couch. At some point Matt walked into the living room glowing with anger. “Who the fuck just pissed all over the toilet and the floor in there?” He half-screamed it. We looked up and turned to Mike and his shaking hands. “Oh sorry man,” he said.

James left the bar at 1:30 in the morning with his friend and with this one girl who was so sketchy that she made all the scofflaws and reprobates we hung out with nervous. They went to a porn arcade where each person was to find some quality alone time in a booth. After doing what he came there to do, James went looking for his mates in shame and found them in a stall crowded together. When he pulled the curtain back, he discovered his friend busily sawing away at the girl’s parts that the bathing suit covers with a humming vibrator. He quickly shut the curtain and said to himself over and over: “think about puppies,” “think about puppies,” “think about puppies.”

The bar had closed before Joe and I were done so we were watching The Simpson’s episodes that he had recorded off the TV on VHS tapes. I remember that world was drifting in and out of focus and that time had become unmoored. Nonetheless, when Joe—for no reason that I can recall—pulled his gun out of the closet to show me, everything cleared up in a hurry. He began to describe the qualities of his revolver but I stopped him mid-sentence. I reminded him many shows about medical emergencies begin with something like: “So my buddy and I had been drinking. Then he decided to show me his gun . . .”

Ke$ha sings: “I don’t wanna to go to sleep/I wanna stay up all night/I wanna just screw around/I don’t wanna think about/What’s gonna be after this/I wanna just live right now/C’mon!” This pretty much captures the let’s-get-fucked-up-tonight-and-see-what-happens ethos of the youth I’m recounting here. Although when the things I mentioned above happened, when I was a young man, I would never have understood or appreciated Ke$ha. What a fool I was! At the time, I thought a song like Modest Mouse’s “Polar Opposites” told what me and my friends felt. It does, but Ke$ha does also and in a more democratic vein. Youth, excess, and the present: the material of all her songs.

This is also the theme of Taylor Swift’s “22.” But I think that Swift handles this theme in a different, less threatening register. Here, too, there is a disregard for what happens beyond right now. Only tonight matters, only what can be enjoyed and consummated at this second means anything at all. The difference, it seems to me, is that while in Ke$ha’s song there is a committed indifference to consequences, in Swift’s song there is no real possibility of consequences. “22” is a fantasy of what youth might be like if nights happened only in the way we imagine them. In those nights, we would laugh at the thought of our antagonists. Whatever we did would mark us as superior to everyone that looks down on us. Nothing we did would really embarrass us or make us feel like less than what we think ourselves to be. For what it’s worth, I think that “22” is a better song that “C’mon;” regardless, “22” portrays the kind of bullshit that only fools and the inexperienced believe. Ke$ha’s song knows that the night can take you anywhere, including places you don't want to go, Taylor Swift’s imagines away that possibility.

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